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Craig Fees (CF)

Interviewed by Bettina Schnurman (BeS)


[They appear to have forgotten the interview of 01/03/2018]



BeS: Hi, Craig. This is almost spooky. It's fifteen years almost to the day since our last meeting. A lot has happened, and you, I guess, are looking around at new horizons. It's March 18th, 2019, by the way, and I'm Bettina Schnurman talking with Craig Fees.


CF: An almost staggering amount has happened. 2004. It's almost impossible to think back... to remember back that far. We were in the midst of change, and we were on the cusp of change. I once spent a night, on the ground, on the edge of a road, with pine oil filling the air, and a river way below, sleeping right on the Continental Divide, in Colorado. I was hitchhiking from the East, and had been picked up by a big yellow school bus filled with hippies on their way back to their commune in Berkeley. We climbed up one side of the Rocky Mountains, stopped for the night, and drove down the other side in the morning. I guess 2004 was like that climb; 2005 was like the last leg home. Not literally. Once we got to Berkeley I had to walk and hitch and find my own way home. Interesting trip. (laughs) That's fun.


BeS: What?


CF: That was the first time I heard the word "trippy". From a very committed young guy with long beard and hair and sandals and a robe. Shortish and slight build.


BeS: Like Jesus?


CF: No, not at all. Slightly obnoxious. A certain kind of self-absorbed one comes across in people who are on the right side of the Road, and look across with knowledge and compassion, because you're in the dust on the other. But they know you'll sooner or later get there. He was a kind of an on-the-road late adolescent practicing-to-be a zen master, from a wealthy family. Not part of the commune, but a hitch hiker like myself. I think that's probably how we met. We certainly had time to talk before the bus picked us up. But what did you want to tackle?


BeS: Were you a regular hitch hiker?


CF: Not really. I mean it was part of life in those days


BeS: When was that?


CF: Oh, gosh. 1970s? Rhode Island to California, 1970. Up the coast to Canada, and then across to Montreal in - maybe '74? Mike would know.


BeS: Mike?


CF: Mike Gorman. We did the trip together across Canada. And then up and down England a couple of times - well, in the 70s on my own and with Peter Bradley; in '81 from Leeds down to Chipping Campden. Across the South of France and back around to Holland with my little brother - that included some trains. And a boat - down the Rhine. Goodness. Meeting people. Waking up to amazing sunrises in the Alps (actually, it couldn't have been the Alps). Almost being killed. Just a lot of remarkable experiences. And in a way, the thirty years in the Archive was like thirty years of hitchhiking while staying in the same place. Static hitchhiking. It was just amazing.


BeS: And will you miss it?


CF: Of course. But one of the things about hitchhiking is that you tumble out of the car, or the truck, or whatever, and there you are. In the middle of who knows where. Sooner or later someone will come along, and sooner or later someone is bound to stop. Hopefully someone who hasn't stepped out of an urban legend. But of course. Thirty years is a long time. And it becomes your home. And people become your friends. And become your family. Of course I will miss welcoming people into that family, and into those fabulous resources we built up over all those years. Of course I will miss the tools I had on hand there: part of the ecosystem of the hitchhiking world is the ability to give a lift in turn: to literally help someone get from one place in their life, or in their mind, or in their memory, to another. Do you have any idea what you can do with a tape recorder? Do you have any idea what it's like to get a phone call from a stranger, and be able to listen through their anxiety or their hostility or their careful husbanding of hope - you know what I mean: a former child from a community who doesn't know what kind of reception they will be getting, who doesn't know what an archive is, who doesn't think you'll know what they're talking about, but you do - you know the name of the community, you know something about its history, you can convey a sense of excitement that they really know this place that you've only heard about. OR - and this is even better - you have materials at your command, within the archive, which will have some unique and profound meaning for them. Boom. There is your cross-continental ride. There is your ability to pay back some of the generous lifts you have been given. What is better than scanning and sending off a document to someone, and never hearing from them again, because they have arrived somewhere and don't need you anymore? And by the same token, what is worse than offering someone a ride, and the car breaks down, or you run out of - what should it be, gas, or petrol?


BeS: That sounds like an allusion.


CF: I had a sudden vision of Mad Max. Those were very difficult years, up to, but especially after 2004/5. The Austerity Years. I was made redundant in 2005. Title of "Director" removed. Rehired on a part-time monthly-rolling contract. That monthly thing dissipated under its own weight after a while, thank goodness, but I didn't have a full-time salary again until 2010 (thanks then to the Heritage Lottery Fund!). Three years of full time salary, the third one thanks to PETT rather than HLF, and then back to part time until the last few months of 2018. As part of the 2005 thing - or it may have started earlier - I no longer had a budget in the Archive. It had never been huge; but the default under austerity became "don't spend". When we got the HLF grant in 2010 it was like a never ending Spring of sunshine and gentle night-time rains, and didn't that soil prove fertile!


BeS: But I got the impression you were always full time.


CF: I always worked full time. I always worked full time and more, and once I was made redundant I had to find outside jobs as well. But you can not build, or run a quality service, part-time. No entrepreneur, building a new business or managing a business under threat, will run it part time. You can't do it, and succeed, especially if you're under-resourced and on your own. But this is a very big topic, and I'm not sure we want to be there so early in the interview. Maybe we can sneak up on it. Or maybe we'll run out of time. Building a complex in-depth archive service from scratch when neither you nor anyone else you know has done it before can take up a lot of time, a lot of words. I learned a lot, by the way, and it was immensely reassuring, from the interviews I did with people who had established archive services after the war. I found there were a lot of things in common - we had lots of things in common.


BeS: This was the archivists - the Society of Archivists' oral history project you led on/ Directed? ""Celebrating Memory: An oral history of the Society of Archivists and its Members". Society of Archivists 50th anniversary celebration project. 1996 to 2000" - I'm reading from your CV.


CF: Yes. Oral history is a fantastic way to learn. If you want to understand the profession you're in, grab a recording device and listen to as many people as you can, from as diverse a range


[Short silence]




BeS: Phew. I'll have to go back and see how we got there. So, what do I want to tackle? Craig, when I spoke with you in 2004, you were fifteen - a little over fifteen years into your project. It's now fifteen years later so, we didn't know it, but we were talking at the half-way point in the life of the Archive. I asked you then how the Archive and Study Centre started, I mean the point of the interview was to find out how it had started, and a bit of its history; but we never really got there. It's 2019, you're now out of the Archive, your time came to an end there in December, and you're now three months along. There can't be very many people around who have founded an award-winning archive, or at least one like yours. How did it come about? How did you get it going? What are you most proud of? I'd really like to find out about its history, from your point of view.


CF: Two things. When I went to interview Peggy McCarthy on the Isle of Wight - she'd been secretary at the Henderson Hospital for umpteen years, and it was umpteen years since she'd retired - she made it clear there were things she couldn't and wouldn't talk about, or even allude to them. She carried a profound duty of confidentiality, even when Maxwell Jones himself was dead. So do I.


Secondly, and most importantly, it was not my archive. It was the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre, and from the moment I was hired in 1988 I was the archivist for the Planned Environment Therapy Trust.


Other than that it began very straightforwardly. It was 1988. I had my PhD. I was hanging about. Robert Laslett had the huge David Wills archive at his house, David's literary executor, fascinated by what he found, trying to put all of it in order. Impossible job. He saw that they were immensely important. He tried to find a research library or archive willing to take them on, and hit blank walls. I suppose he must have been the senior Trustee in the Planned Environment Therapy Trust at that time. The Trust was still operating on its original principles at that point, by the way, and there wasn't a fixed Chair as such, much less a Director. Or perhaps there was - but if there was, it didn't feel like it - it was very egalitarian; one wasn't an employee, but a colleague; there was no membrane in a meeting of the Trust which said "please don't contribute to this part of the conversation, this decision, you're an employee" or, in Maureen's case, "you're a voluntary secretary." These were colleagues and friends. In early days, in any event, the chairmanship of meetings was rotated. Was it still when I joined? I don't know.


So, I'm thinking Robert was the senior, longest-standing Trustee at the time. Whatever. The David Wills archives had come to him on the death of Elizabeth Wills, David's wife. She was killed at the end of 1987. The records went to him as literary executor, and the Trust itself received a significant bequest from the estate. When he couldn't find an institution interested in taking David's things Robert turned to the Trust. He said, in effect, 'let's use this bequest to do something.' I was approached - presumably at the end of a Trustees' meeting; John had probably warned me -


BeS: John?


CF: John Cross. John had probably prepared me to meet with Robert. In any event, we met in the dining room at the school, where the Trustees' meeting was held, the sun was shining, we were standing, we were near the door to the playroom, and we three had the meeting. I have no idea now what I said or what they said; but I came away with a commission: I presumably came away with a commission. For goodness sake, Craig: At some point - if it wasn't then, it was very soon after - I was appointed archivist and given the task of researching the options for an Archive. Archive lite, or Archive Max, with options in the middle. I started researching: Visited Julia Sheppard at Wellcome, introduced by Marion Bowman; visited Michael Halls at Kings College, Cambridge; visited Patricia Allderidge at the Bethlem and Maudsley. All senior, weighty archivists, and exceptionally generous. Bought books. Read articles. Joined the British Records Association - the Society of Archivists in those days was a closed shop. Joined the Society of American Archivists. Always had support at the Gloucestershire Record Office - it was probably their copy of BS5454 I consumed. Presented my findings to the Trust early in 1989. They decided to go for Archive Max, and asked me to continue, to get it started. I did. From a hitchhiking point of view it was brilliant. It was like being back in L.A., bouncing around the country, meeting people, discovering relevant archives, learning learning learning.


Wait. I can be more exact. In 1995 I presented a report to the Trustees in which I outlined the origins of the Archive. All the Trustees were there. Robert - Robert Laslett - had written a corrective paragraph. He presented it, read it, and everyone agreed it represented the true record. So it is definitive. I think most of the Trustees who were part of the original decision were still members, so it is as authoritative, as definitive as there can be. It's interestingly different from what I had written. Let me just find it. Hold on.


[Pause. Phone rings. Brief conversation]


I'm sorry, I'm going to have to go in a minute. But first, let me read this to you. Would you be willing to try to meet again?



BeS: I'd like to, if we could. Many questions to ask. I don't think leaving it another fifteen years would be a good idea, though, but how about - I mean, you're in the middle of this transition, so...I mean you weren't ready earlier, but we've made a start today, so maybe we could try to meet a bit more frequently for a while - every month or two? Or three? See what's at the top of your mind at the time, about the Archive, about your time at the Archive? You've found it?



CF: So, that's interesting. Elizabeth was killed - if you had asked me just now, I would have said Elizabeth was killed in 1987. But anyway, here's what it says:


When Elizabeth Wills died in 1986 she bequeathed her husband's papers to Robert Laslett, who had been one of David Wills' literary executors since his death in 1980. When he began to look into the mass of papers passed to him, which included diaries, personal and professional correspondence, manuscripts of lectures and published articles and unpublished material, Robert realised that these papers were too important and valuable for him to retain and manage. He concluded that they should go on to some institution where they would be secure, properly catalogued and made accessible to others who would wish to consult them. He decided that the most appropriate place for them was with the Planned Environment Therapy Trust. Accordingly, he made the papers over to the Trust on condition that the Trustees should appoint an archivist who would be responsible to them for their safe keeping and management. He also indicated that as there was no national collection of papers which pioneers in the work with delinquent and young people and with maladjusted children had collected over the years, the David Wills papers should form the nucleus of such a collection, being a unique record of many aspects of his work during the years 1923-1980. David Wills had also bequeathed about £50,000 to the Trust, and the Trustees agreed that a proportion of this amount should go towards the establishment of a P.E.T.T. Archive and Study Centre. This was established in 1989.


(That was the paragraph Robert inserted, which the Trustees read and agreed, so it is definitive! We owe so much to Robert! It then goes on - I then went on - )


In another sense, the creation of a repository was implicit in the thinking of the founders of the Trust, who had a keen feeling for the significance of their own archives. They formally agreed that pending other arrangements David Wills should hold the archives of the Q-Camps Committee and of Hawkspur Camp for Men, Marjorie Franklin would hold the archives of Children's Social Adjustment Limited and of Alresford Place School, and Arthur Barron would hold the archives of Hawkspur Camp for Boys. It is an indication of the need for this Archive that only the materials held by David Wills survive: Marjorie Franklin's papers were destroyed at her death by her housekeeper; Arthur Barron's were destroyed following his stroke, just about the time the Archive was being formed.


That's all correct, I'm sure, but pretty dry. Before we stop, let me just read you what I had originally written, what Robert's paragraph replaced:


"In formal terms, the Archive was established in 1989, when an archivist was appointed, the David Wills Collection was accessioned, and regular reports to the Trustees were begun.


"In less formal terms some discussion had been going on for about two years, stimulated by the death of Elizabeth Wills at the end of 1986. At this time Robert Laslett was holding David Wills's personal papers, which included the archives of the Q-Camps Committee and Hawkspur Camp for Men. Attempts to find a suitable permanent home for these papers failed, and discussions began around the possibility of establishing some form of archive through PETT."


That's sooo anaemic. Sooo unsatisfactory. So grateful to Robert for making the correction. I need to tell you this as well: I came across a letter recently that I wrote to family and friends back at the end of 1988. In this letter I said I had been appointed archivist for PETT. So that happened in 1988, not 1989. My first report to Trustees wasn't dated (!) so maybe that was 1988 as well. Goodness, Craig. On fine details, history matters. In a grain of sand. Thank you, Be. I'm sorry for the rush.


BeS: Thankyou. I'll turn this off now.


[For the 2004 edition of self-reflection by interview referred to above, see "Before the PhD and after: do ut possis dare"]